Surgical Options

Heart surgery is done to fix valves that don't function properly and are placing too much strain on the heart. This can happen when they become thick and stiff or fuse together, or if they do not shut properly and leak. As a result, not enough blood flows through the valve into the next heart chamber or to the body.

To fix these problems, surgeons may either repair or replace the diseased valve. In many cases, surgery on the malfunctioning valve will alleviate symptoms. Replacement valves are taken from animals (cow or pig), made from human tissue, or made from man-made synthetic steel.

The type of heart valve surgery may include:

Heart valve repair: Examples of heart valve repair surgery include cutting scarred flaps so they open more easily; remodeling valve tissue that has enlarged; or inserting prosthetic rings to help narrow an enlarged valve. When feasible, heart valve repair is preferable, because a person's own tissues are used. The most commonly repaired valve is the mitral valve.

Heart valve replacement: When heart valves are severely malformed or destroyed, they may need to be replaced. Replacement valves fall into two categories: tissue (biologic) valves, which include animal valves (cow or pig) and donated human (cadaveric) valves, and mechanical valves, which are usually made of a metal alloy.

Balloon Valvuloplasty: A less invasive surgical procedure in which a special catheter (hollow tube) is threaded into a blood vessel in the groin and guided into the heart. The catheter, which contains a deflated balloon, is inserted into the narrowed heart valve and inflated, stretching the valve open. At the present time, this procedure is usually reserved for high risk patients that are may not be candidates for more traditional surgical options.